In the hopes of producing a documentary from this trip, I am asking my couchsurfing hosts about the importance of understanding people. These days, in the Age of Outrage, it is common and acceptable to point fingers and blame other people for their ignorance, fueling our feelings of being upset and hopeless but not fully engaging our capacity to learn and understand. I think it’s more important to understand people than it is to merely judge them and dismiss their humanity, as is so prevalent today.
Most if not all of my couchsurfing hosts lean more liberally. It’s not always something that’s discussed, and most hosts don’t even bring up politics (largely because so many of their guests are from other countries), but I have seen a few Bernie bumper stickers and there seems to be a general disdain for DJT. I’m sure that there are some hosts who hold more conservative views and may even vote Republican, but I haven’t met them yet.
Generally, people who identify themselves as liberal are much more accepting of strangers and seem to have a bit more faith in people’s capacity for good. Especially for conservatives who come from a religious background, the foundation of the Judeo-Christian heritage is that people are naturally selfish sinners that God has to punish for their existence, so it’s a little more difficult to trust people than it is for those who don’t hold such rigid beliefs about divine limitations. When you’re told you’re a wretched sinner once a week (or more) and need to be saved from being such an awful person, it doesn’t do a lot to bolster your faith in humanity. After all, if you’re a terrible sinner and still do your best to live righteously, imagine how poorly you inherently think about other people who participate in behavior you’ve been taught to be sinful.
However, I do have conservative family members, and while they may not be entirely willing to take in complete strangers, they do take in their own kind. And they do treat me very hospitably even though I am an unrepentant sinner. Although conservatives may not be as amenable to engaging with people outside of their clans, they do look out for one another and stick together.
As homo sapiens have evolved over the last couple of millennia, we started as clans and grew into communities which then became cities, then states, then nations. Throughout this growth, many have come to embrace these larger groupings, some opening up so much to have a world view that allows them to realize themselves as part of the entire world and find their place in the connectedness of all things. And there are some who cling more tightly to the smaller groupings they use to carve out their identities and forge their self-esteems.
Generally, those who have the capacity to embrace the larger worldview tend to be more liberal and can’t understand why other people still hold distinctions against other people who may be different in race, creed, nationality, sexuality or other differences we’ve developed over the years. By its very definition, to be conservative is to hold back. As we see it politically, it often means to hold back change or even progress by trying to conserve more traditional means of operation and associating with the individual and his own circles. Socially, it comes through as conserving the differences between us and them and conserving judgments and limitations about those who are different and how much we should care about them.
In America, even our liberals are conservative. By building on the battle of good versus evil that the judeo-Christian heritage is based on, we continue to propagate the manufactured ideology of us versus them. Although our liberal standpoint may be to develop unity by seeing beyond color, religion, gender, and such, conservatives are still very much the enemy in the daily battles we fight in our binary sociopolitical contest of wills. If we are to evolve consciously as a species, we must learn how to open our worldview not only to the change we wish to see in creating a more civil and just world for all, but how to even embrace the seemingly closed-minded thinking of conservative tribalism.
It is not necessary that we all become tribal, but it will save us a lot of aggravation if we can realize that many still are, and we have to find ways to meet them at their level, find the things we do actually agree on, and work together on creating more harmony while still preserving their traditions and recognizing what they may still have to teach us. This does not mean that we need to necessarily honor their biases, but we must realize that they are there, and there is a very good chance that they are not going anywhere. We can’t force people to evolve, but we can understand where they are and work with them in order to help ourselves evolve.
When you identify with a tribe or a movement, you associate yourself with it. You realize that life is about more than you and your puny ego by serving something larger than yourself, but truthfully, it’s still just an extension of your ego. Whether you identify yourself as part of a family, political party, country, or sports team fan base, you become a part of that greater whole and become one with it.
If you were a Hatfield, you’re beholden to dislike the McCoys. If your football team wins, you feel like a winner just as much as you feel like a loser when they are defeated. And when you are trained to think that your country is the best, you may cling to that idea with blind pride even though facts may not support your country’s supposed stature in the world.
For instance, my brother-in-law staunchly identifies as a conservative and thus sees liberals as the enemy in our political game while seeing Trump as some sort of hero. He has told me that the problem with presidents from the Democratic Party is that they always blame their predecessors for problems instead of taking responsibility themselves, as if Trump didn’t do that all the time. When talking about the divisiveness that has been cultivated between our political parties over the last few years, he said that what he loves about Trump is that he never played that game, even though Trump was largely the catalyst for much of it as he played that game more ruthlessly than any president in my memory.
Yet because my brother-in-law identifies as a conservative, he must support his team, and for the moment, his team supports Trump, and he must do the same. I don’t think it’s that he won’t see beyond the limitations he has embraced. I truly don’t think he can. Especially since the movement has embraced someone as dishonest and narcissistic as Trump, I think those conservatives have found themselves in a very uncomfortable psychological state.
Since his rise to power, conservatives have been forced to produce apologetics about Trump in order to rationalize his behavior, and for each of the principles he has forced them to release in order to embrace him as their leader, they have sacrificed their own self-esteems in order to honor him. Now, their egos are so attached to him that they can’t even recognize truth anymore.
Especially for conservative Christians, in order to embrace Trump as the leader of their movement, the same movement which once heralded itself to be the Moral Majority, they have been forced to release so much of what was once important to them, and after sacrificing so much of who they were, I can only imagine how difficult it must be for them to really know who they are without him. While Jesus may have had a really good run, Trump now owns their souls.
Granted, there are some conservatives who have had the capacity to see past Trump’s bullshit and lies, and they find themselves in a very difficult situation as well. Their party has been taken over by a demagogue, and while some may have meager hopes of getting it back, I’m sure some are wrestling with the notion of becoming independent. After all, if they become Democrats, a million fetuses will automatically spontaneously combust.
But for those who have followed Trump, for many, it is just too late to turn back now. To even consider the idea the Trump is not the wonderful leader they’ve convinced themselves he is would be devastating. To do so would be to admit that they were wrong, and although their egos are now attached to him, or maybe because they are, I don’t think they are able to admit that they made a mistake, so I think they are just going to get more deeply entrenched in his defense and will blindly follow him all the way to the end of this bumpy ride.
While I’m sure most conservatives reading this, if there ever are any, may find my position to be demeaning, but I am genuinely trying to find compassionate understanding. Although Trump may claim he is the best at everything, I happen to think he is the best bullshit artist of our time. And I know how much it sucks to be fooled.
I suppose I see conservatives, at least the ones posing a problem, as those who have been duped by limited thinking, whether through antiquated traditions or the current blowhard in chief. I could easily jump on the bandwagon proclaiming them as the enemies of progress, and that may actually be what they are. However, they are also still part of our collective evolution, and we would be more well served by understanding them than merely vilifying them.
A few of my couchsurfing hosts have told me about how much they’ve gotten to like certain people with different political ideologies once they can get past conversations about politics. And I too have found a lot to like in many people who held different beliefs than me. I think we would all do better to take Will Rogers’ advice and find things to like about other people rather than focus on things we hate, but that can be very hard to do in the Age of Outrage.
Nevertheless, just because something is hard does not mean it is not worth doing. In many cases, that means it is worth doing. And as difficult as it may be, I believe it would serve us better to do the hard work of understanding people rather than taking the easy road to vitriol that has become so popular as of late..